Chapter no 35 – THE CAVE

Lightlark (The Lightlark Saga Book 1)

It was midday by the time the king finally opened his eyes. Isla was curled against a corner of the cave, watching him. Still covered in his blood.

“You saved me,” he said, frowning.

Hearing him say the words made her realize how absurd it was. Oro was the most powerful person in all the realms . . . and she, a powerless ruler, had saved him.

Perhaps she really wasn’t as powerless as she thought. She gave him a look. “I’m not as weak as you think I am.”

He didn’t return the glare. “I’ve never thought you were weak.”

She blinked. He couldn’t mean that. “Well, now we’re even, I suppose.” That day on the balcony seemed realms away.

“I suppose we are.” Oro took in the cave. They were at its mouth, buttery sunlight spilling inside, just a few feet away. Those streaks of gold had nearly seared him through. She had pulled him to safety with a second to spare.

Oro turned his attention to the other side of the cave, the tunnels that led through the underground. Pretty blue lights illuminated the ceiling like a constellation of stars.

“We’re beneath a Skyling graveyard,” he said gruffly. He nodded toward the bright blue. “Glowworms. They eat the bones.”

Isla scowled, the mysticism of the place ripped away. But she remembered the winged man’s words. “Is it a place where darkness meets light?”

He nodded and winced. “One of the few on Sky Isle. Once the sun goes down, I’ll search it.” He seemed to sense her confusion about the winged man’s information, because he said, “Nightshades did build the island, along with Sunlings. When they were banished from Lightlark, their lands were built over. But some parts, and some creatures, still dwell in the in-between.”

“So, this is our plan,” she said, needing confirmation. “We’re going to check all the places on the island where Nightshade and Lightlark meet?

That’s where the heart is?”

He bowed his golden head. His crown was covered in mud. Both of them were caked in dirt and blood. “There aren’t many. Especially with Star Isle off the list, thanks to the specter’s information.” He stretched. “Besides the graveyard, there is only one other place on Sky Isle that qualifies.”

“How about Sun Isle?”

“I will search those locations myself.” Isla gave him a look. “Yourself?”

Oro sighed. “Do you truly not trust me yet?” She frowned. “Do you trust me?”

Oro did not answer her question. Instead, he said, “I never break promises. I do not break deals on a whim.” He looked at her pointedly.

Isla rolled her eyes. “And what about Moon Isle?”

“There are a few. But that’s the last place we check.” “Why?”

“Because Cleo has her isle heavily monitored, and if she thinks we’re looking for something there, she’ll try to find it herself.”

Oro was being unusually forthcoming. She needed to get every detail out of him that she could. “How many total places are left, then, where darkness meets light?”


Eight. That wasn’t a large number at all. Hope bloomed Isla’s chest. “Don’t get too excited,” he said, frowning. “There are risks.”

Isla didn’t care. They had a firm strategy and a manageable number of places left to search. Still, something made her uneasy. “The plan is entirely based on what others have told you. The specter. The winged man.” She swallowed. “Did it ever occur to you that they could be lying?”

“They can’t lie to me,” Oro said simply.

Isla didn’t know what that meant. Was it because he was king of Lightlark? Could all his subjects not lie to him? She certainly could. And she had.

She asked another question, since it seemed like he might answer it. “In the oracle’s prophecy, it says the original offense must be committed again to break the curses. You believe the original offense was wielding the heart of Lightlark, don’t you? Using its power?”

Oro glanced at her. Nodded.

So that was why he needed the heart of Lightlark. To fulfill part of the prophecy.

“You said that when Sunling and Nightshade created Lightlark, they trapped a fraction of their power in the heart.” Her eyes widened, realization dawning. “That’s why you invited Grim here for the first time,” she said, the words toppling from her mouth. “You don’t think he or any Nightshade spun the curses. You think someone used the Nightshade power trapped in the heart to cast them.”

Oro nodded again. Something in his eyes, a gleam, looked almost impressed.

She lifted her chin. “That means you didn’t know about the heart until after the last Centennial. Or else you would have invited him to the previous ones . . .”

Oro’s silence confirmed it. But his expression had turned wary. “You should go,” he finally said, not meeting her eyes. He was stuck there until dusk . . . but she could leave at any time.

Her dry lips pressed together. Part of her wanted to run out and up to the surface. Take a bath and wash the hair that was stuck to the blood on her face. The mud that covered her clothes. The film of dirt across her skin.

Another part wanted more information. The king had never been this forthcoming before. And she had one more question she needed answered.

“I’ll wait with you,” she told him.

Oro blinked, surprised. Then frowned, annoyed. She ground her teeth together—wretch. The king tensed as he trailed a finger across his neck, making a line through the dried blood.

She shot a look at the light at the mouth of the cave, a carpet of gold across the floor. “Seems like we’ll be here awhile longer,” she said. “Let’s play a game.”

“A game,” he said flatly.

Isla nodded, undeterred. “Questions, back and forth. I’ll answer one.

And then you will. Honestly.”

She expected he might say her proposed game was foolish or might even decide to brave the fiery sunlight rather than spend another moment stuck with her. But he leaned the back of his head against the wall and looked at her, chin lifted. “Fine, Wildling. You start.”

She sat up. Her important question barreled through her mind, but she couldn’t ask it. Not yet. She had to start small. “Be honest—do you ever tire of wearing gold?”

Oro gave her a look that said, That’s what you want to ask me? He sighed. “Yes, Wildling. Though I can wear blue, white, or silver if I choose.”

Right. He was an Origin—he could wear colors from all the realms he had powers from. She wondered if he did wear other shades, outside the Centennial.

“Your turn.”

He studied her for a few moments. “What is your life like, back in the Wildling newland?”

It wasn’t the question she might have expected, but it was an easy one, so she was grateful. “It’s . . .” She opened her mouth. She had an answer queued up, ready to go, about how wonderful and exciting it was.

But she had promised to be honest.

Isla wanted him to trust her, so they could find the heart and break her and Celeste’s curses.

Which might mean trusting him in turn.

“It’s awful.” She studied the ground, running her fingers along its rough patches. “I love my guardians—they’re my only family.” She took a long breath. “But—” She squinted, not knowing how to say it. She met his gaze and found him watching her intently. “Have you ever felt like a bird in a cage?”

She expected him to sneer at her.

But he nodded, just a slight dip of his raised chin. “Every day for the last five hundred years.”

Of course. Her limited existence locked away in her Wildling castle was nothing compared to the centuries Oro had endured.

“Who trapped you?” he asked, though it wasn’t his turn.

Isla winced, then cursed herself for even suggesting this game. Why would someone with so many secrets do such a thing? He had no idea how close his question was to the truth . . . to unraveling all the lies she had built up like a fortress around her and her realm.

“Not trapped . . . just . . . protected.”

Oro didn’t push the subject, and she was glad. She hurried to ask a question of her own. “Have you ever been in love?”

His answer was immediate. “No.” “Why not?”

“Kings of Lightlark do not fall in love. It makes us vulnerable. Our power becomes unprotected.” He glanced at her. “I suppose we are similar in that regard . . . in our inability to have that.”

Because of the Wildling curse. “I suppose so.” She thought of Grim. His hands across her dress. Clutching her to his chest. It wasn’t her turn, but she had to know. “Do you think it’s possible for a ruler to love another ruler? Truly, without any agenda?”

“No.” He shook his head. “Not truly.”

A part of her wilted inside. But he had to be wrong. Just because he had never experienced love didn’t mean it wasn’t possible. “So, your brother really wasn’t in love with his bride-to-be?”

Oro shrugged a shoulder. “Egan loved Aurora. But not in that way.” “How would you know?”

Oro met her gaze. “They didn’t share abilities.” Falling in love meant sharing access to one’s power with their beloved. It was what made rulers falling in love so dangerous.

“Your turn,” she said quietly. She had asked several questions in a row and was surprised he had answered them.

“Did you know Grim previous to the Centennial?”

Isla stilled at the mention of him, as if Oro had plucked him from her thoughts. She answered honestly. “No.”

He looked at her strangely.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m not working with him against you, don’t worry.” It was true.

Oro’s expression settled into something she hadn’t expected . . . relief mixed with surprise. Isla immediately shifted the subject away from the Nightshade ruler. “What’s your favorite part of Lightlark?”

He scratched the side of his head, just below his crown. “There’s this secluded stretch of beach on Sun Isle, along a cliff . . . with giant coals in the water that sizzle when the sea hits them.” He lifted his gaze, eyes on the ceiling. “The sea is a strange shade there . . . dark green. The color of your eyes.”

Isla glared at the word strange to describe her eyes but mumbled, “Sounds beautiful.”

His arms stretched over his head. “Your singing,” he said simply.

She blinked. Part of her had forgotten that he had heard her, so many weeks before. “What about it?”

He shrugged. “Tell me about it.”

Isla looked toward the mouth of the cave. The sunlight still glittered brightly. “It’s calming to me. Something I was born being good at, without really trying.”

“Like swordplay?”

“No. That was hard. I wasn’t naturally good at it, not like the singing. It used to frustrate me to no end . . . Terra, my fighting instructor, would scold my impatience constantly.” She sighed. “So, I practiced. A lot. Every day, all day, all the time. Until the sword was weightless in my hand. Until it was a part of me, just as much as my voice was. I forced it to be.”

Oro studied her but said nothing. It was her turn.

Finally. It was time to ask her question, for the sake of her own sanity. Just to make sure she had made the right decision in calling off her search. It was a risky thing to say aloud. But now, on the fifty-fourth day of the Centennial, every action seemed like a risk. “Is there a relic on the island that can break any bond? That can break the curses of the ones that wield it?”

She studied his face desperately, looking for any sign of recognition, any hint of surprise. The king’s eyebrows did come together. But, more than anything, Oro looked confused. “No,” he said firmly. “If there was, I would have found a way to use it.”

She believed him. It was a foolish thing to do, but she did.

Which meant the bondbreaker either never existed . . . or was destroyed before the king had learned about it.

“Is that what you were searching for?” he asked. He knew she had been looking for something in the Sun Isle library. And that she hadn’t found it.

No use in hiding it now. She nodded.

It was her turn again. “How long have you been able to gild?”

Oro looked surprised by the question. He blinked. Isla wondered if this was the one he would refuse to answer. A few moments passed in silence before he said, “Since I was a child.” His eyes were trained on the ground.

Deep in thought. “I was told to hide it,” he said, frowning, as if he hadn’t expected to be telling her this. “Egan was the eldest. The heir. He was supposed to be the strongest.”

“But he couldn’t gild,” Isla guessed. He met her eyes. Nodded.

“So why now? Why show everyone?”

Oro sighed. Shrugged a shoulder. “I figure I’m dying. Might as well share all my secrets.” He said it casually, but his eyes were hard. Serious. She thought of the bluish gray she had seen hours before. How much it had spread since he had first shown it to them in the throne room. Moments mounted, and silence stretched between them. She wondered if he wouldn’t take his chance to ask a question, right up until he finally met her gaze and said, “What was your secret, Isla?”

Isla. He so rarely called her by her name, instead referring to her as Wildling most of the time, as if to remind both of them of what she was. Or, she supposed, what she was supposed to be.

She felt her throat get tight. “What?”

His stare was unrelenting. “Your secret from my demonstration. What was it?”

She swallowed. Shook her head no.

The king laughed without humor. “I didn’t think so.” He scratched the side of his neck. “How about this—why did you let me win our duel?”

So, he had known. The duel seemed so far away. So much had changed. “I didn’t want to make myself a target.”


Her turn to be bold. To prove that, even though he had proclaimed that he wanted to share all his secrets, there were still some he wasn’t willing to divulge.

“What is your flair?” she asked. She had wondered for a while if the king had one of the rare powers that didn’t relate to their realms, the ones rulers so often possessed.

The way Oro paused made her positive he did. The Sunling inclined his head at her. Considering. “Share your secret, and I’ll tell you.”

Wretch. She said nothing.

And the king smiled. It unnerved her. She had never seen him smile, not really. Not genuinely. “How about this?” He sat up straighter. His eyes were

not hollow at all—they were full of something she couldn’t read. “Tell me your secret, and you can be the one who wins.”

Silence. Her heart was beating so loudly, it was a wonder it wasn’t echoing through the cave. “What?”

Oro did not so much as blink. “When we find the heart, you can brandish it, fulfilling the prophecy. You can win the great power promised.” He shrugged. “But only if you tell me your secret.”


Isla had never even thought of winning. She had been too focused on surviving. On breaking her and Celeste’s curses. Lately, on finally getting her Wildling abilities.

He couldn’t be serious.

“Why would you do that?” she demanded. “Don’t you want the power for yourself?”

Oro shook his head. “I do not wish to become a god,” he said. “Too much power is dangerous. I have never wanted to win. I simply want to save Lightlark.”

Isla scoffed. “You would give it to me?”

“Who else? Do you suppose Cleo should have it?” Isla bared her teeth, and Oro looked ready to grin at her reaction. “Precisely.”

“How about Azul?”

Oro shook his head but did not offer an explanation.

Power. Isla had wanted it more and more. The power promised was prophesied to be endless. The things she could do—


Isla hadn’t ever handled even a drop of power. What would she do with a sea of it?

Especially since the price was revealing her secret. Isla shook her head.

The king looked surprised. Then he frowned. “Either you are the only other ruler not interested in the Centennial’s prize,” he said, “or your secret is worse than I suspected.”

“That’s not a question” was her only response.

For the rest of the time, they barely spoke, their game over.

Isla watched the sunlight streaming from the cave entrance until it withered and disappeared.

You'll Also Like